Presented by UCSB Arts & Lectures. At the Granada Theatre, Fri., Jan. 20.
As the forward-slash punctuation suggests, Bill T. Jones’s evening-length dance theater piece Story/Time rips the two elements of its title away from the comfortable context of good old “story time” and pits them against one another in some new kind of tension. For exactly 70 minutes, as tallied by the bright green digital clock projected on the back wall, Jones, seated onstage at a small table, read original stories at a pace that was strictly predetermined — he had just 60 seconds to tell each one. As he did this, dancers from the company swarmed and swirled around him to an eerie, partly electronic score that was played live by composer Ted Coffey. Sometimes, the dancers illustrated the short narratives that Jones spoke in his resonant baritone; most of the time, they did not, instead gyrating and gesturing in ways that were more about expressing internal feelings or making social observations than about matching individual actions directly to narrated incidents.
The texts were mostly personal stories, but the autobiographical perspective was periodically interrupted by the third-person point of view or by more poetic pronouncements that conjured up visions of memory, landscape, and loss. The galaxy of art stars that sparkles in Story/Time’s name-dropping night sky clearly indicated both the creative milieu in which Jones has lived and worked for more than four decades and the canon of greats to which he aspires to belong.
Aided by Coffey’s sensitive, at times boisterous score, the dancers expressed the depth and complexity of Jones’s choreography while maintaining their own distinct presences and personalities. Seated or standing, dancing or talking, Jones continues to move forward, taking risks and challenging the future with his art, even as he mines his memory for stories from the past.